Don’t blame the unions … blame the lawmakers in Harrisburg

Letter by David W. P. Jones, Daily Local News, 7/11/14

Mr. Thomas Haas … you stated that you were taught “if we make a mistake, to correct it.” Well, you made a few mistakes in your article.

First and foremost, taxpayers have no claim to the private payments and accounts made by teachers. This is not taxpayers’ money, this is the money workers paid from their wages and it belongs. Second, your taxes are not going up “just” because of the pensions. Other issues, like construction, special education, medical benefits and for-profit private school payments are also contributing to the escalation. Next, if the solution were as simple as you suggest it would have been done by now, but one of the things you overlook … which is extremely important … is that the legislators are part of this same system. So, the difficulty is not getting legislators to vote to change employees benefits, but rather, that they must change their own benefits at the same time.

You referred to pensions in the private sector that had to be modified because they were “overly generous.” The private sector pensions were not overly generous, they were underfunded in the exact same way the public sector pensions have been underfunded. In the private sector many companies simply shifted to pay profits before they paid their obligations and then claimed they didn’t have enough funds left to pay their obligations. Many of these pension systems went bankrupt and then the taxpayers had to bail them out with the federally funded pension insurance.

You also blame the “generous formula” the unions pushed for as part of the problem. Well, that generous recalculation in 2002 under the Ridge administration was part of the problem, but it was not generated by the unions, it was pushed by the Legislature and the administration. Just to be clear, while the employees did get a generous recalculation of 25 percent, the legislators actually doubled that to 50 percent for themselves. So don’t blame that one on the unions, please….

read more at Daily Local Newsbenefits


Tennessee Legislature Rolls Back Test-Based Teacher Evaluation Law

Diane Ravitch, 4/24/14

In a stunning reversal,the Tennessee Legislature overwhelmingly repealed a law to evaluate teachers by test scores, and the law was swiftly signed by Governor Haslam. On a day when Arne Duncan withdrew Washington State’s failure to enact test-based teacher valuation system, this is a remarkable turn of events.

Joey Garrison of The Tennessean reports:

“Gov. Bill Haslam has signed into law a bill that will prevent student growth on tests from being used to revoke or not renew a teacher’s license — undoing a controversial education policy his administration had advanced just last summer.

“The governor’s signature, which came Tuesday, follows the Tennessee General Assembly’s overwhelming approval this month of House Bill 1375 / Senate Bill 2240, sponsored by Republicans Rep. John Forgety and Sen. Jim Tracy, which cleared the House by a unanimous 88-0 vote and the Senate by a 26-6 vote.

“That marked a major repudiation of a policy the Tennessee Board of Education in August adopted — at Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman’s recommendation — that would have linked license renewal and advancement to a teacher’s composite evaluation score as well as data collected from the Tennessee Value-Added Assessment System, which measures the learning gains of students.

“The bill to reject the policy had been pushed chiefly by the Tennessee Education Association, the state’s largest teachers’ organization, which engineered a petition drive to encourage Haslam to sign the legislation despite it passing with large bipartisan support.

“Huge, huge win for teachers,” the TEA wrote on its Twitter page, thanking both bill sponsors as well as Haslam for “treating teachers as professionals.”

“Eyeing a 2015 implementation, the state board in January had agreed to back down from using student learning gains as the sole and overriding reason to revoke a license. Composite evaluation scores, in which 35 percent is influenced by value-added data, were to centerpiece.”


Two interesting points here: one, Duncan has been hailing Tennessee as a demonstration of the “success” of Race to the Top, in which test-based evaluation of teachers is key. What happens now?

Second, state Commissioner Kevin Huffman is so unpopular that anything he supports is likely to be rejected. His enemies hope he doesn’t leave Tennessee because whatever he recommends generates opposition, even among his allies.

Why VAM Is a Sham

Diane Ravitch’s blog A site to discuss better education for all, 1/19/14

The centerpiece–and the most destructive element–of Race to the Top is the insistence that teachers must be evaluated to a significant degree by the test scores of their students, whether they go up or down.

It is destructive because it makes standardized tests the purpose of education.

The tests cease to be a measure and become the aim.

That is wrong.

It leads to a narrowed curriculum, teaching to the test, and cheating.

And the measure itself is fraught with error. The teachers with high ratings one year may get low ratings the next year. Some with low ratings may get high ratings the next year. They did exactly the same things but their ratings shifted. One gets a bonus, the other gets fired. It is wrong to make the tests so consequential.

Here, if you have not read it, is an excellent summary of the VAM research, explaining why VAM is misused, by the distinguished psychometrician Edward Haertel, presented in a lecture to ETS.

You should also follow VAMboozled, which is testing expert Audrey Amrein-Beardsley’s blog. She will publish a book this spring, showing the invalidity of VAM. She points out that more than 90% of researchers in the related field agree that VAM is misused by federal policymakers….

keep reading at Diane Ravitch’s blog A site to discuss better education for all

Pension crisis about to explode for Pa. school districts

By ERIC BOEHM, PA Independent, in Daily Local News, 12/07/13

Pa. school districts will face the highest pension costs in their history during the 2014-15 school year, but it will only get worse after that.

School districts across Pennsylvania are getting news that’s unpleasant yet not unexpected.

The Public School Employees Retirement System, or PSERS, last week began sending notices to school districts that their pension costs will climb to 21.4 percent of payroll in the 2014-15 school year.

Even though that total could change a bit before it becomes official at an end-of-year meeting of the PSERS board, it gives a pretty good indication of what school districts are facing.

For historical context, the 21.4 percent figure is the highest rate since at least the 1950s — and it’s quite a jump from the 16.9 percent districts paid this year.

The actual cost will vary greatly from district to district depending on the size of payroll, but statewide the PSERS pension obligation for next year will ring in around $1.4 billion — with roughly half that cost covered by school districts and the rest left to the state. Another $537 million will be needed to fund the State Employees Retirement System, or SERS, next year.

State Rep. Glen Grell, R-Cumberland, believes it’s time for the General Assembly to do something about Pennsylvania’s mounting pension costs. He said this week that it should be the next major priority of the state government, now that a $2.4 billion transportation infrastructure bill was signed into law.

“They have never been that high, yet the trajectory is still going up,” said Grell, referring to the school district contribution rates. “If we don’t act soon, the rate will certainly continue its rise until it exceeds 31 or 32 percent.”

Without changes, districts will be forced to raise property taxes, cut programs and lay off staff, he said. …

read more at Daily Local News

A Day in the Life of an Elementary School Teacher

from Progressive Network of Southeast PA, 10/12/13

by a Chester County elementary school teacher

Elementary school teachers spend hours upon hours, seven days a week, planning, prepping, grading, inputting data, conferencing and supporting the children who benefit from their instruction and watchful eye.

However, if you think the potential to take summers off, enjoy long holiday breaks and schedule appointments at four in the afternoon are some of teaching’s best perks, you are absolutely incorrect!

So, how do elementary school teachers spend their weekly hours? In short, they spend it richly. They are tasked with the responsibility of providing an effective elementary school education to each child that passes through their doors.

Elementary school teachers pack each day with the kind of experiences, relationships, skill-building exercises—and, yes, challenging, enriching lessons—that equip young children to succeed in school and beyond. See the schedule below for an example of how one 4th grade elementary teacher spends her day!


7:00 – arrive at school, get more coffee and review lesson plans

7:30 – early meeting (faculty, team, primary/intermediate, I.E.P. meeting, progress monitoring, parent conference…) and any last-minute preparations

8:10 [in classroom] – Pledge of Allegiance; take attendance; take lunch/milk count; OOPS! I just realized I forgot to visit the restroom; make announcements; look at notes from home; pass out any needed materials; collect/check home assignments

8:25 – teach mini-lesson [based on students’ needs]

9:00 – accompany class to music, art or physical education [depends on the day]; RUSH to the restroom!; call 3 parents, leave messages on answering machines; check/respond to emails and phone messages; teacher planning, prepping, grading time???? NO TIME!!! Accompany students from music, art or physical education [depends on the day] back to classroom.

9:25 – teach social studies/science lesson [depends on the day]

10:45 – teach math lesson

Noon – accompany class to lunch/recess; rush to restroom (teachers alternate on lunch & recess duty, serving every other day)

1:00 –teach language arts lesson

2:55 – prep for dismissal

3:00 – teacher monitors as students go to car/bus line; after school care; rush to restroom

3:30 – late meeting (faculty, team, primary/intermediate, I.E.P. meeting, progress monitoring, parent conference…)… *and any last-minute preparations, grade papers; input grades online; prepare for next day’s activities

*These tasks can only be accomplished if you are fortunate to have someone to:

pick up your own children from day care or after-school activities
take your own children to doctors appointments
shop for & cook family dinner
clean up after family dinner
monitor homework

By 6:00 [HOPEFULLY] – Go home with any unfinished work.

By 8:00 [HOPEFULLY] – Your own children’s day comes to a close & you may have a few moments to chat with your significant other. So that you can grade papers, plan, prepare for next day’s activities…

By 11:00 [HOPEFULLY] – It’s a teacher’s bedtime.

The next day….

Between 5 – 5:30AM, my alarm sounds, I crawl out of bed, and….